The Hubble Telescope is the most famous of the space telescopes. But besides being called the largest space camera, it is also an extremely important scientific instrument.
From the very moment that the Hubble began its work, both scientists and ordinary people do not cease to be amazed at the amazing pictures that the device sends from orbit. The beauty of these images often overshadows real scientific discoveries that would have been impossible without Hubble.
Naked Science presents 10 of the most important discoveries made with this telescope.
Long GRB source
In the 60s of the XX century, American satellites created to register gamma radiation as a result of Soviet atomic tests began to catch huge radiation bursts from the depths of space. For decades, no one knew where these bursts were coming from. When the Hubble began its work, scientists were able to track them: the sources of gamma-ray bursts were galaxies with fast star formation like the Large Magellanic Cloud (see photo below). Gamma-ray bursts occur during the collapse of massive stars.
Accurate measurement of the Hubble constant
For years, scientists have debated the exact meaning of the Hubble constant, a key component of the equation that calculates the expansion rate of the universe. Before the Hubble telescope, the calculations of this value were different, they differed from each other by one or two orders of magnitude. After the images of distant supernovae were analyzed, astronomers reduced the Hubble constant to a value with an error of five percent.
While some of Hubble's most notable images are associated with observing the depths of the Universe, the device also made valuable observations closer to home … Of course, if 2.5 million light years can be considered close to us. Previously, scientists knew very little about the history of even our closest galactic neighbors (like the Andromeda galaxy - see image). However, Hubble's ability to focus on individual stars in these galaxies has allowed scientists to better understand the history of our corner of the universe.
Collisions of celestial bodies
When it comes to closer to home, several of the most important images from Hubble involve a planet in our system. In 1994, fragments of comet Shoemaker - Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter (pictured), and the space telescope provided the first images in the history of science of a collision of two bodies in space. In addition to looking stunning, the images provided new insights into the composition of Jupiter's atmosphere.
The study of the secrets of space invariably leads us to the question of whether life exists on other planets. To answer this question, we need to know how many planets there are in space. Hubble has gone a long way to do this. Taking pictures of protoplanetary disks that eventually form planets (like the disk in the Orion nebula in the picture), the space telescope has shown that planets are more frequent in the universe than scientists thought.
Planets outside the solar system
Speaking of exoplanets, Hubble was the first spacecraft to take a picture of a planet outside the solar system. Previously, an image of a planet orbiting the star Fomalhaut was obtained, scientists had to calculate whether a star has a planet, judging by how its glow fluctuates. Thanks to Hubble, astronomers have the opportunity to photograph the planets themselves.
Astronomers have assumed for years that there are supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies. But until Hubble took a picture of one of them, the question was pressing. The telescope not only discovered the existence of black holes in the centers of galaxies, it gave scientists the opportunity to see that there is a connection between the size of a black hole and the size of the galactic bulge.
Hubble Deep Field and Hubble Ultra Deep Field images
This is one of those cases where the aesthetic beauty of Hubble images is combined with their scientific value. The Hubble Deep Field (HDF) and Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) images are the largest magnifications of observable space ever made with optical light. They provided incredible images and also gave scientists information to accurately calculate the age of the universe.
Astronomers have been building theories about dark matter for many years, but so far they have not been able to observe it directly. It can account for up to 22% of all matter in the universe. Due to the fact that it does not reflect or emit light (which, in fact, gave it its name), dark matter cannot be seen through a telescope. However, this dark substance still has a gravitational effect on the light passing by it, which it bends like a lens. Hubble was able to capture a snapshot of light distorted by dark matter's gravitational lens, thereby registering what had previously been impossible to observe. The image shows how light from the galaxy cluster Abell 370 is distorted by the gravitational lens of dark matter.
According to General Relativity, the gravitational effect of every object in the universe will gradually slow down and then reverse the expansion of the universe. For many years, astronomers have been convinced that this is exactly what is happening. Again, until Hubble came along. Since the late 1920s, scientists have known that the universe was expanding, but it was believed that this expansion would eventually (someday) slow down. In 1998, thanks to a space telescope, astronomers saw that it was not only not slowing down, but on the contrary, it was accelerating. This monumental discovery was made by measuring the light emitted by supernovae like SN 1987A (pictured).